Saturday, June 22, 2013

Upside, downside

Every adventure has its upsides and downsides here are a few
A major plus was our travel partners Joan and John. John did almost all of the driving and was a great tour guide. As the person with the most travel experience he knew where to go and what to see. Joan did most of the navigating with a map and three GPS that didn't always agree. She always kept a positive spin on situations even when the Tour bus is coming at us on a very narrow walled road/lane in Ireland and it looks like there is absolutely no room for us to pass.
Joan also kept track of expenses so we could split the costs. This was extremely helpful when our major credit card was compromised and cancelled. I suggest to anyone traveling in a foreign country to have at least two credit cards per person. Another tip is to investigate credit card coverage for rental cars which can save a lot of money as we found out in Ireland.
A downside is we rediscovered that Europeans of all ages smoke much more than in the U.S. As a consequence it is difficult to escape second hand smoke. I was continually surprised by people who I would guess as being non smokers and then would light up.
Europeans have improved their bathrooms and showers but they still have a ways to go. It wasn't a cleanliness issue more like a space, water pressure or water control problem. I never did figure out the shower controls even after three nights in Sarlat. On another note all the hotel rooms were bigger than I expected.
My vote for the best food was Ireland outside of Dublin and at the best prices. Most expensive food was in Switzerland including prices in Lucerne. We did find a good restaurant in Lauterbrunnen at a campground close to our condo. I wouldn't think of going to a campground for dinner but this place was good, maybe the best in town. A few of our better and least expensive meals were prepared in the condo by Joan and Gail after a stop at the local, sometimes small, grocery store.
My favorite stop on our tour was Switzerland. We had a nice condo with a beautiful view of a Yosemite like valley and at least four waterfalls, and where we watched the farmer move his sheep every evening. The car was parked when we arrived and we walked or took trains for the entire five days. Which brings up another point we did a lot of walking almost everywhere we went. I would have liked to rented some bikes but the opportunity didn't really present itself.
The travel time back to California we figure at about 24-25 hours. That is from doorstep to doorstep and includes the taxi ride to the airport, waiting time. layover time and the final ride home. Actual flight time was close to fourteen hours. The final two hours felt like ten. We flew from Paris, a very confusing airport, to Charlotte and then to SFO.
All in all a very nice trip but it is always good to be home and in an English speaking country.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We are in Meaux, France tonight with the thunder, lightning and heavy rain and it is booming. The rental car has been dropped off and a taxi is on call for tomorrow morning. I figure by the time we get in bed at home Thursday night it will be 7am on the body clock. Home will feel good. Last night we stayed in a new hotel in a very small town, had a great dinner of rabbit and very complete breakfast even if I'm not fond of ham, smelly cheese and salami (I could never be French).
Today we drove through some great rural countryside and visited a champagne cellar, well actually just the tasting room. The taste came with a little education on how champagne is made and what the difference is between dry, semi dry and Brut. No matter they are all good.
Northern France in the last seventy years has experienced a long respite from wars. All through this country side there are reminders of the bad times. We have seen French and American cemeteries, signs that Sargent York was here, signs to stay out of these woods forever and historical names such as the Marne and Chateau Thierry. Modern agriculture rules the day to the benefit of local residents.
Tomorrow we catch the big bird home!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Verdun

We left Heidelberg this morning and headed back to France. On the way we stopped at the Verdun battlefield, site of some savage World War I fighting. That was a war of insanity where Generals sent the troops over the top of their trenches into deadly machine gun fire to gain 100 yards only to give it up the next week. Millions of men died young before their time before they had a chance to enjoy life. We went through the museum, walked around Fort Douaumont and visited the Ossuary a tribute to the men who gave their lives. Here are two names out of thousands listed inside the building: Lauren Salabert, Maurice Delval. I have no idea who they were but I know they never saw their 28th birthday and there were so many more just like them. So sad.
We had lunch on the river in Verdun and the city has changed a great deal in 50 years. I was stationed here from 1960-62. Then it was a medieval town without much going for it. Now the downtown is all remodeled, streets are constructed with pavers and the waterfront area is filled with outdoor restaurants. After driving in a few circles we found my old military post which is now a French military post. I can't say I have fond memories of my time here but it is interesting to go back and see it again.
Tomorrow we are off to Meaux for our last night in Europe. It has been a great trip and there will be plenty of good memories which as always get richer as time passes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stiil Here

After leaving Lauterbrunnen, we spent a night in Lucerne and then a couple nights in Heidelberg. Before I leave Switzerland here are a few reflections. Views can be very spectacular but not in tunnels. The Alps are like Swiss cheese, we have traveled through many tunnels and some of them are very long. If you were a tunnel digger the last 60 years you were not out of work. There are construction cranes in every city; the building business appears to be very healthy. Lucerne is a city on a lake. The train station comes into town at the outlet river and across the river is the old town. All these cities seem to have old towns and they are very busy. You can get around quite well using public transportation especially in Switzerland and bicycles were very plentiful in Lucerne. I have come to the conclusion that Europeans walk a lot more than Americans. The old towns are car free for the most part and parking is not free so many people use bikes or public transportation. The old town sections of Orleans, Sarlat, Lucerne and Heidelberg have been refurbished into walking malls with many outdoor restaurants and stores.
Food in Switzerland is expensive, so far the best food and best prices have been in Ireland outside of Dublin. Restaurant prices in Lucerne are ridiculous and the quality doesn’t always reflect the cost and be careful about the price of the wine the waiter recommends. Prices and choices are better Heidelberg. In Sarlat the choices were mostly limited to: goose liver (foie gras), ham (jambon) and duck. Many restaurants depending on the city don’t open until 7pm as we found in Orleans.
We have used public transportation. We rode the train into Dublin a couple times. We took a bus from the airport into Paris, one hour standing room only, and then the Metro. We used the metro to go to Versailles and took a train to Orleans. In Lauterbrunnern we bought a 3 days pass and rode the train every day. The trains have all been comfortable and on time.
One curious sight, on the bus ride into Paris I noticed a shanty town with a lots of garbage and what looked like tarpaper houses ....... with satellite dishes on top. Go figure!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jungfrau

This morning the day started with clear blue skies. A good day to go to Jungfraujoch "The Top of Europe". Inside the square in the picture below is where we ended up.

At the top are a couple restaurants, observation decks, ice displays, tunnels and a train station. We boarded a train in Lauterbrunnen and changed trains in Kleine Scheidegg. The trip up the mountain on this cog railway is mostly through tunnels.

The views begin upon arrival at the top. We were not alone there were plenty of tourists of all nationalities and the trains were full. Of course today was a good weather day, you don't want to be there on a bad weather day. Much of the walking at the top is through tunnels and up elevators, the adventurous can hike up a snow covered hill to another vantage point. We did spy two people on top of one of the nearby peaks. Their only route appeared to be over ice and snow. On the back side is a glacier that flows out of sight. A great day, great experience and plenty of photo opportunities.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Train Day

Today was a training day; well we rode the train over the mountain and back. Beginning in Lauterbrunnen we took the cog railroad up to Wengen a village that provided a great view of Lauterbrunnen and the Yosemite like canyon. After a walk around town we caught another train and continued the trip up the mountain to Kleine Scheidegg. This village sits on a col leading to the Jungfrau with Lauterbrunnen down below on the right and Grindlewald down below on the left. There are great views in all directions, ski runs and still higher mountains. We postponed a trip to Jungfrau because of the cloudy weather at the top; instead we had lunch and then took the train down to Grindlewald. Cameras clicked steadily as we descended steeply down to town. In town we enjoyed some beverage refreshment and parachute hang gliders provided entertainment. Jackets came off as we warmed in the sun. The final train legs were Grindlewald to Zweilutschinen and then back to Lauterbrunnen to complete the loop. Dinner tonight is on the deck of the condo.

They say there are 74 waterfalls in this area. I have seen about 16-17. I have some work to do.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lauterbrunnen

We are here until Saturday and it is kind rainy overcast but beautiful. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to improve. We bought railway tickets for the next three days which will take us to other villages, some higher on the mountain. We walked around the town, climbed up behind a waterfall and strolled up a valley path. Think of Yosemite with green grass, cows and sheep. This is a popular area for base jumpers, those people who take a train to the top of a hill, hike to the edge of a cliff, strap on wing like contraptions and parachutes and then jump. They are difficult to view as they fall or soar but easy hear and see when the chute opens. Around town they are the young ones with backpacks who all know each other no matter their national heritage. I might add base jumping is not on my "bucket list".

Monday, June 10, 2013

Catching Up

We have covered a lot of ground over the last couple days and are now in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland in a very Yosemite like valley with several waterfalls. The first picture below was taken from our deck with a view up the valley.

Two nights ago we were in Carcassonne a walled city in southern France. In fact it is double walled with a castle and a medieval city inside the walls. Our hotel was inside the walls safe from marauding barbarians and crusaders. All the cobblestone streets are very narrow. We left our car just inside the walls and were transported to the hotel in a tiny vehicle capable of maneuvering the narrow alleys. It was difficult to get good pictures, the fortress is so big and good vantage points are few.

Sunday we visited Nimes and an ancient Roman Coliseum which is still being used today. Go figure we build stadiums and then tear them down fifty years later and the Romans build them to last. Talking about lasting the second stop was at Pont du Gard. This aqueduct is another Roman construction and is very imposing and impressive. With my good camera and tripod I could spend a couple days photographing at this site. I'm disappointed in the photos I got but very much enjoyed the visit.

I an trying to convince Gail make an entry on this blog but so far no luck, maybe she will make an appearance soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Market Day

Many of these French towns have market days once a week which are similar to our farmers markets. This morning was market day in Sarlat and it was huge. Several streets were blocked off and parking spaces in town were at a premium. Below are a few pictures. Speaking of pictures I have so many I will be able to bore anyone to death when we return home. My late Aunt who loved to show us pictures would be impressed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections

Overall all the weather has been good, there were a few rain and hail showers in Ireland and of course the downpour in Paris but some rain is expected. Here in Sarlat we are experiencing the warmest weather to date. According to the locals it has been a very rainy spring in this region. Speaking of showers the Europeans still haven't perfected theirs. All the showers have their quirks and the one in this apartment is a mystery when it comes to regulating water temperatures. I do have room to turn around but that is not always the case.
Sarlat is a real medieval town that has been rejuvenated. There are plenty of narrow streets and alleys to investigate and you never know when you will find a restaurant in a hidden place. The main square is full of open air restaurants and folks like hanging and out enjoying a coffee, beer or wine. Up scale shops and art stores add to the local flavor. This town is like Carmel only with medieval buildings and outdoor restaurants.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More photos

This is the castle of Chambord where we were Tuesday

This is a street in the old section of Sarlat on the way to our apartment

Turn right down this narrow street to the small square

Our apartment is on the third floor, that is our bedroom window on the upper right

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I'm throwing a couple of pictures in here. We have been using cell phones and two other cameras and it is getting a little confusing. The camera I want to post pictures from is in the car and I'm not walking out right now.

Eiffel Tower

This is the Chateau at Sully, we just walked around the grounds.

The next two pictures are from Orleans, the older section of town is being all redone. Vehicle traffic is restricted and they have a tram that runs through the middle. The tram in the picture goes right by the train station. When the tram is not present the area looks like a narrow park. Oh and the trams in the morning are jammed with passengers

Bloise and Chambord

Tuesday we took a trip to the city of Blois, walked around town, viewed a huge chateau on a hill and had lunch in a city park. On the way back to Orleans we stopped and toured the royal Ch√Ęteau de Chambord. We were able to walk through much of the building and it is huge. There are 12 enormous rooms off of a central circular double stairway. Why anyone would want to live in such a place is beyond me. The stairway is such that two different groups could be ascending or descending and they wouldn't have to pass each other. The grounds are ringed by a stone wall that is 32 kilometers long. We had two tour guides Cathrine and Renee who are friends of our traveling partners Joan and John. Dinner was prepared by Cathrine and this is the first time I have tasted foie gras. I can't say I am crazy about it but the wine was wonderful. I've learned that here in France different wines are served with different dishes beginning with white wine. Having dinner in the home of a french citizen is somewhat unique and quite enjoyable. I'm sure the evening will be one of the more memorable moments.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Loire

Wow, long day today! We visited a magnificent castle that is really just a chateau as in someone’s home. I’ll post some pictures later. Then on to the canal over the river; the picture is below. Yes, that is a boat in a canal going over a river, all designed by the Eiffel Tower guy. Next was lunch by the Loire and then a walk around the hilltop town of Sancerre. Wine tasting was next and we purchased a couple bottles. We made the day longer by visiting Bourges and walking through the monstrous church on top of the hill. I was blown away by the size of the church. Construction started in 1195 and it wasn’t dedicated until 1279. It took 49 years of actual building, unbelievable. After a long drive we returned to the home of our travel guide Catrina. She was a great host all day and fed us at the end of the day. The purchased wines were tested and found to be of good quality as you can tell by Gail’s smile.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A few Pictures

At the entrance to the Palace of Versailles

One of the lock bridges over the Seine,

Outdoor cafe in the Latin Quarter, this area was jumping last night.

Musee D'Orsay

Le jardin at the Museum of Natural History real close to our hotel.